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Polish #RespectUs campaign sends trucks across Europe to spread message on Nazi crimes

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Polish #RespectUs campaign sends trucks across Europe to spread message on Nazi crimes

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Trucks are being deployed across Europe to spread the message that "Poles saved over 100,000 Jews" during World War II, marking the latest campaign to emerge after Poland passed its controversial new Holocaust law.

The law, which was passed earlier this month and makes it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes committed during the war, has come under fire from several rights groups and foreign governments who say it threatens freedom of speech and legitimate academic research into the role some Poles played in the atrocities.

But the new campaign, #RespectUs, argues that the history of the Holocaust “is being falsified”.

“The international campaign of attributing co-responsibility of the Holocaust to the Polish nation is one of the most shocking and scandalous events in [the] modern history of Poland,” reads a campaign website launched earlier this month.

"Poland ceased to exist at the end of September 1939. In the occupied territories of Poland, German criminals built ghettos and death camps where they murdered millions of Polish citizens," it adds.

“Poland — in contrast to many European countries — has never collaborated with Nazi Germany.”

Spreading the message

In an effort to get their message heard, campaigners are sending a dozen trucks donated by local company Futrex around Europe, displaying the message: “#RespectUs — During WW2 Poles saved over 100,000 Jews.”

“Since the beginning of this week, the first trucks have already travelled to their Western European destinations — mainly to Germany,” campaign founder Marek Miśko told Euronews.

“We are sure that soon Polish trucks recalling the obvious facts from the history of the world and Poland will literally flood other European countries,” he added.

Photo courtesy of #RespectUs
One of the trucks being used in the Polish campaign Photo courtesy of #RespectUs

Miśko said the decision to deploy the trucks came after “some of the world’s media began flooding public opinion with untruths and lies about the history of Poland.”

#RespectUs describes itself as a grassroots initiative “created by a group of young people who love Poland," and says it does not receive any support from politicians or state-owned companies.

It says its aim is to make people think independently about the Holocaust.

“We do not want to convince anyone with this campaign. We only ask that our peers from other European countries think independently, do not undergo manipulation, confront a lie with the truth and live in this truth. That is all we ask,” said Miśko.

#GermanDeathCamps

The #RespectUs initiative comes on the heels of a Polish government social media campaign in support of the new law.

Videos posted to the YouTube and social media channels of the Polish Prime Minister's Office earlier this month promoted the hashtag #GermanDeathCamps.

"Germany put Poland through hell on Earth,” said one video created for the campaign. “Jews and Poles suffered its terrors together.”

Adverts promoting the #GermanDeathCamps hashtag were also rolled out on various websites.

The debate

In an open letter this week, the World Jewish Congress said the new law had created a "firestorm of ill-will."

"There were willing accomplices in every country Germany occupied who helped round up Jews and who took part in the mass murders. At the same time, there were also individuals who risked their lives to save Jewish men, women and children," it argued.

Poland has long objected to the use of phrases like "Polish death camps", which it says implies shared responsibility for concentration camps such as Auschwitz.

The camps were built and operated by Nazi Germany after it invaded Poland in 1939.

Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial has said that while Polish lawmakers were justified in the view that the term “Polish death camps” was misrepresentative, freedom to research and discuss the Holocaust should be protected.

The introduction of the Holocaust law has sparked tensions between Poland and Israel, with talks scheduled to take place this week in a bid to de-escalate the crisis.